UCL Careers


The view from inside an academic journal

Dr Luca Gasparoli has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences and previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher at UCL. Now a Scientific Editor at Cell Press, Luca spoke to us about his current job.

An image of UCL alum Dr Luca Gasparoli.

17 June 2024

Tell us about your job.

I am a Scientific Editor at Cell Reports, one of the gold-open access journals at Cell Press, that is part of a larger scholarly publishing company, Elsevier. Cell Press is an all-science publisher across the life, physical, earth, and health sciences.

How did you move from your PhD to your current role?

After working in academia for over ten years, seven of those as a post-doc, I realised I was no longer interested in doing experiments at the bench, so I started looking for alternative careers. I was always quite passionate about science communication and reading scientific articles and so a possible career as a scientific editor seemed a good fit for me. I had the chance to meet and talk with editors at different publishers, both at career fairs and through personal connections, and this provided a clearer view of the role, career progression and how they managed to succeed in their role.

I then started to research the role and opportunities at the major publishing companies, Springer Nature, Elsevier, Frontiers and Plos. I have a background in general biology, but my PhD and post-doc experience is in cancer biology so I initially focused my attention on journals where my expertise would be a good fit, as I thought this would help me in assessing the submitted manuscript. I applied to several different positions and went through the whole recruitment process a few times before being successful, so one of the key messages I have learned is never lose faith.

The recruitment process involves several steps, most commonly a telephone interview with Human Resources, one/two rounds of manuscript assessment and a final interview with the hiring manager and the other editors at the journal. The manuscript assessment is an important step, where candidates are asked to read potential submissions and give an evaluation of the manuscript from an editorial point of view, so researching what types of articles the journal you have applied to is publishing is a good preparation. For the general interview, it’s good to have a general knowledge of how the publishing industry works, who are the major publishers and the possible journal competitors, as these are frequent questions.

How did having a few years of post-doc experience impact you?

In general, the only requirement for a Scientific Editor entry level is having completed a PhD. Having a few years of postdoctoral experience is not a hindrance and could be used to show the breadth of your background and your experience in scholarly publishing.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

The bulk of a normal working day involves reading and assessing new submitted manuscripts, as well as managing the peer-review process of manuscripts under review. This generally means finding the most suitable reviewers, making sure they deliver their comments and recommendations in time, and making the editorial decisions after the reviewers’ comments have been submitted. The initial decision on the suitability of the submission and the editorial decisions both involve editorial team discussions.

The other main part of my working day involves outreach and building and managing relationships with authors and reviewers. We have frequent interactions with potential authors, via email, virtual meetings, and institutional visits. 

What are the best things about working in your role?

The two main best points for me are being able to read and listen to great and exciting science daily, and authors’ outreach, both at conferences and during virtual meetings.

What are the biggest challenges?

The recruitment process has a few steps and is relatively long, compared to academia for example. Also, salaries are not especially high, particularly at entry levels, and are generally in line with postdoctoral salaries in academia.

What’s the progression like?

Progression varies a bit between publishing companies, but the entry level is normally at Associate Scientific Editor. In a couple of years, you can then be promoted to Scientific Editor and then to Senior Scientific Editor. Some journals also have Deputy Editors positions, which frequently involve managing a team of Scientific Editors and whose main role is to help the Editor in Chief in managing the journal.

There are however also other careers trajectories from the Scientific Editor. For example, within the major publishing companies there are positions available as Publishers. A publisher is responsible for the strategy and overall success of one or more journals in collaboration with academic editors and Editorial Board members. Other possible career options are journal manager and Content Acquisition Specialist (some information for Elsevier is available online).

Moving outside of scholarly publishing, other possible career paths include working in science communication in academia/pharma companies or for private companies offering scientific editing and writing for manuscripts and grants.

What top tips would you pass on to a researchers interested in this type of work?

My first suggestion is to reach out to a Scientific Editor (LinkedIn is a good place to start) to learn more about the role, responsibilities, and career opportunities. I found this knowledge very valuable when I was still not sure about this possible career opportunity. I would also recommend reading published articles outside your expertise and background, as you’ll likely read submissions on a broad range of topics.